It’s hard to believe my formal time with Teach For America-Delaware is almost over. Two summers ago, I barely knew where Delaware was, let alone what the education system looked like. When I landed in Philadelphia and was picked up by our Executive Director, Laurisa Schutt, I was thrilled to see the immense passion that she, and I assumed all of my fellow teachers, possessed.
While our first few days in Delaware were exciting and eye opening as we learned about the State’s long history – from slavery to desegregation to now, I didn’t understand how challenging this journey would be until we were sent to Philadelphia for training. It was grueling and consisted of many days of feeling unsuccessful and uncomfortable. Around the third week I broke down. “How can you do this to them? How can you let them fail?” I needed to take full responsibility for the progress of my students. Even if they faced huge challenges, and many adults who didn’t believe they could achieve, it was on me to learn how to fight for them.
I learned then that I must gain my students’ trust by being open and honest about who I am so far. I told them about being raised by a single mother, experiencing domestic violence and homelessness, and the years I lived in a motel room with two cousins. I told them about arriving in my first honors course in the 8th grade, and being shocked by how different the students were from what I was used to – they were white, middle class, and wore brand name clothing. I told them about my 8th grade honors English teacher, Mrs. Timme, who took the time to get to know me and what I was capable of, and cared about me enough to challenge my expectations of myself. I explained how I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin under the 10% rule, and encountered a campus of 52,000, where just barely 1,000 students were African-American males like me.
In return, I gained respect and love from my students. The scope of which I truly saw a few months ago when I received a call from my sister telling me that my mother had passed away. I was forced to travel back to Texas, plan funeral arrangements, and miss a week of classes. I received a barrage of calls, texts, and cards from my fellow school staff and parents of my students. Upon my return, my 8th graders welcomed me loudly. I was moved by their generosity. One student stood in front of his class to read his thank you, but stopped short as he began to cry. It became clear that I mattered.
My official commitment to Teach For America is ending, but I’m happy to say that I will be staying at Georgetown Middle School. My students have changed me in ways I never imagined. I can only hope that I’ve changed some of my students’ lives for the better, too.